All posts by Mukund Mohan

My discipline will beat your intellect

Is your community Global? How about your career?

Giovanni pointed us to Rusty Weston’s My Global Career blog.
My Global Career features reader–generated content by a burgeoning community of global workers, hiring managers and recruiters among others.”

My Global Career 500 – a ranking and directory of the world’s
largest employers
; tools such as World Business Holidays; unique
assessment tests such as Global Ready?;”

Very nice listing of top employers globally or as one would call it MNC’s – Multi National Corporations. The emphasis is on upper case M as in BIG.

Increasingly smaller companies and organizations (like ours for example) are the new mNC – emphasis on the lower case m. We are small (less than 100 people), but have employees (not just temporary hires) in US, India, Ukraine and Canada.

Most of the communities that businesses that we run are 65% dominated
by US users, and some in India are obviously dominated by people from
India.  So what have we learned from global communities:

1. Moderation cannot be done in a non-local way. E.g: We had a US semiconductor company with moderators in India. After seeing no “moderation” for 3 days we asked the moderator “What’s going on?”. Apparently one of the users posted offensive content that bothered the moderator, but it really was a colloquial usage of an american slang.

2. Use timezone differences to your advantage: Personalize your content enough for local test, but cater to global issues that plague all users.

3. Accept global survey results with a grain of salt. Survey questions dont always translate well in local languages even if your answers are of the multi-choice type. We found it better to localize survey questions to get a better feel for localization within an international community.

Getting consumers to brand your products using online communities

News.com reports that at the American Association of Advertisers’ annual media conference and trade show, the key message was “let consumers brand your product”.

“Building relationships through brands is the future of marketing, Jim
Stengel, global marketing officer at Procter & Gamble, said in a
keynote session. The company, whose brands range from Gillette and
Crest to Downy and CoverGirl, is sponsoring Web sites for customers as
a way to increase brand loyalty and attract new customers, he said.
“We’re working to co-create rich experiences that tap into the desire
for self-expression,” Stengel said.


For example, P&G worked with Yahoo to create the Capessa online community site aimed at women. Yahoo also created the Pontiac Underground site for fans of the General Motors brand.”

The one thing that matters in successful communities: Interview with Sean ODriscoll of Microsoft


Sean ODriscoll is the Michael Jordan, Lance Amstrong and Tiger Woods all combined in one for online technical communities.
He has been working on community for approximately 4 years with a
particular focus on engaging the active enthusiasts and leaders that
fuel the value of communties. He has been at Microsoft, where he is the General Manager of Community Support and MVP (Most Valuable Professional). This MVP group is about 3500 people who are actively helping their communities learn more about technology and leveraging Microsoft products more effectively. They are independent from Microsoft, and leaders in their own right with their sole mission to help others be successful with technology.  They are not evangalists for Microsoft, but more the leaders at how to use and leverage their technology.

The one question I had for Sean was “What is the ONE thing you have learned that you would like to share with community practitioners, managers and designers?”

“Start with a focus on the active enthusiasts or leaders of the community and build it around them. These are the top 1% of folks who are going to make the core of your community and are the most vocal participants”.

The answer seems very obvious at the superficial level, so I dug deeper to understand his perspective.

1. Leverage active participation tracking: Currently they use the most simple tools to monitor who are the most helpful MVP in NNTP (Network News) and use Netscan. Since their MVP are people that help on other communities besides Microsoft, they have to watch, monitor several communities hosted outside Microsoft to ensure they find out who is helping the users. These people get nominated to be the MVP’s for the year.

2. Provide incentives to the active participants: Each year (similar to the Oscars), these MVP are identified, awarded and feted by Microsoft. Since they help the community which indirectly benefits Microsoft, they are all invited to fly into Redmond for a summit, they meet with their peers, product experts from Microsoft and also meet with Bill Gates. They do get incentives along the way. E.g. At the Vista launch last month many of them got the first views at the product.

3. Grow and nurture your active MVP’s: Since most MVP help the community out of their own interests, helping the benefits Microsoft. They are actively courted by Microsoft and given training, documentation etc. This helps them be more effective at their activities.

4. Request active feedback from your participants: The conversation is bi-directional with lots of MVP’s providing their perspectives which sometimes are not always aligned with Microsoft’s but they end up learning from each other and still help the larger audience of non MVP’s.

5. Build the community around your active participants as opposed to making the participants come to the community. Support your participants ways to organize instead of building a community specifically around your own needs to control the message and medium. What this implies is that if your company makes a product and there are independent communities that have sprung up outside of your direct influence, it still makes a lot of sense to support & help those extended communities.

The ROI from communities and collaboration

Noticing several people start to talk about ROI from communities, social networking and collaboration. Dave Hersh of Jive Software submits:

“I’ve been getting a number of reporters asking about the ROI behind an application like Clearspace lately.
My general response is that it’s a fool’s exercise. Trying to determine
if the savings and revenue increase are worth the expense is like
trying to measure whether the view from atop Everest was worth the
climb — it’s exceedingly hard to measure and it should be painfully
obvious.”

Matthew Lees also has a piece written up on measuring success of online communities. He mentioned in a discussion that a lot of organizations are not asking for serious ROI since there is an executive who in their “gut” believes this is the right thing to do.

Selling to IT organizations for 15+ years I know that most IT folks have been conditioned around documenting the ROI for any project before they purchase it. In fact due to the “willy nilly spending of 2000”, many companies now have a rigirous IT project justification process where any buyer has to submit all this information, and it goes into a committee which decides if they should proceed or not.

I suspect Dave’s has been talking to IT pubs like InfoWorld, Information week etc. whose users demand ROI (which has led to a new magazine in itself – Baseline Magazine). So, my suggestion: if you want to get written up in IT pubs, you ought to have a perspective on where the ROI might be based on previous customer input.

Else you can always target the business teams that need collaboration internally like Customer support team, or Sales engineering team, etc. bypassing the IT folks if you provide a hosted on-demand solution. Then the ROI question is less frequent.

Here are some examples of where ROI might exist for specific collaboration projects in our experience:

1. Sales engineering organization: Reducing time to obtain key information that lies in other SE minds, which reduces time to closing a sale, which is monitored by productivity gains.
2. Customer support collaboration: Reducing number of cases by allowing support personnel to collaborate with one another and provide documentation quicker. This reduces the number of cases opened, showing up as reduced headcount and lower cost of customer support.

What do you think? Where have you seen some experiences of ROI in collaboration and communities?

2 key news events that will shape online social networking

1. Cisco buys Tribe, acquiring the assets of the 8 person company according to Nytimes.

2. Reuters will launch a MySpace like community for financial people.

What does this mean?

1. Hype cycle starts NOW. If brand names like Reuters and Cisco are buying into social networks, then the beginning of the gold rush is officially NOW!

2. Social community investments are NOT being driven by ROI need or business justification, just Myspace envy

3. There has to be a better way to monetize the community “eyeballs” if so many folks are beginning to spend money on this.

The fine art of asking questions of your community: Best practices

Case study overview: Mid-sized technology company, over 400 members in their innovation community, primarily early adopters from their customer base and selected partners. The community has been run for about 7+ months now and has been “moderately” successful.

Why moderately? Metrics that were set initially were pretty agressive – create a new subline particle product (in an adjascent market) within 1 year that can be a potential $50 Million business in 3 years.

Reviewing other metrics, they are pretty successful: Page views, message interactions, offline community building, etc. are all “up and to the right”.

Keeping metrics aside for a second, if you ask the question “What is the burning desire for the members of the community to participate?” – (hence the image at the top BTW) we get one very interesting answer:

Great discussions were a result of great questions asked by the community members that prompted a passionate response. Great iscussions were the “burning desire” for the erudite crowd of their participants.

So we dig further: What were the questions and can we categorize them. Here are the categories we came up with:

1. Hypothetical questions: These are best used to test and explore. If someone has a hunch to go down the path for further discussion:
E.g. What if ….? or How come this…. and not…?

2. Elaborating questions: These take something the community all together knows and can extend beyond to foster imaginative behavior:
E.g. What does …. mean? What’s missing from ….?

3. Provocative questions: These challenge your conventional wisdom and also are meant to push people. Done right they tend to be the longest discussion threads. Take my own example at future of communities.
E.g. Are we really sure…? Is there a point ?

So to get better discussion in your community, what types questions are being asked?

Your comments are mostly a waste of time :) (from my posting at Future of Communities

Most people have been told that in several studies
only 90% of your community members are lurkers, 9% contribute something
and the remaining 1% really account for most of the action. There are
several angles that have been discussed about this in great detail. Still the question that we deal with on a daily basis is:

“Given limited time and resources, where do you spend your time to increase participation?”

Here are some approaches:

1. Focus your efforts on the 1% and help them by making it
easier to contribute. Compelling argument: Focus on the what you do
best, is an approach that many have heard from several experts. Phil Wainewright
suggests that you focus on those who are motivated to contribute. Its
also easier to help people that want to help you. The real challenge is
metrics that matter at times tend to be skewed by this group of
enthusiastic participants who might sometimes intimidate the 9 or 90%.

2. Attempt to increase participation among the 9%: Compelling
argument: Any incremental uptick will get you a more engaged audience.
This is the marketing person’s dream come true. I remember hearing an
entrepreneur pitching me his new idea 5 years ago on mobile phone
accessories. There are going to be billion phones – even if I get 5%
that’s a huge market. The trouble is our experience most of the 9% is
of a different mindset and profile than your 1%. Hence getting them to
participate is not materially different from the sample size.

3. Get rid of as many of the 90%. Compelling argument: They
are not significantly enriching the community, but just parasites, so
go forth and look for the next 1% types – or the “alphas” in your user
community. The disadvantage of this model is that if your target
addressable community is of a low number, the lurkers are really needed
to justify the investment in the community.

4. Do a little of everything aka “peanut butter approach”:
Compelling argument: Try several things at the same time and keep what
works. Trouble is if you have the community being Sue’s night job and
David’s “part time assignment” or Anil’s “opportunity to excel”, none
of them really want to do everything. Also a “controlled experiment” is
a lot harder to run in this case.

5. Do nothing but understand and accept, plan accordingly.
Compelling argument: Before you scoff at this consider how little we
know about these things just yet and letting “things take their course”
may not be a bad option. But for the MBO-driven, metrics oriented, get
it done culture we have this may clearly not be acceptable in some
companies.

You may ask: What does this have to do with your comments or future of communities: Your comments are valued and I thank you for them!
I have a hunch that unless we get participation to be more encompassing and device good methods and means to make it better, the future — plurality of the masses will just be an empty promise.

Some examples:

1. Focus your efforts on the 1%:

Real life example: We run a “innovation” community for a large Tech company. Most of the invitees to this private community are architects who have been hand picked
to get their opinion on future direction of the products. Even in this
community of 80 people, the 90-9-1 thesis applied. So, after a marathon
3 month effort to get suggestions and product feature requests and
prioritization, we found out the adoption among the 80 architects was
low. Why? Well most of them disagreed but did not want to tell the
community. So the features that were requested by the vocal 1% did not
apply to many of the others.

2. Attempt to increase participation among the 9%

Real life example: There were over 11,000 registered users in
one of our communities catering to customer support for a enterprise
software product. To get the rest of the participants to help others,
we opened a “sub community” within the main community for invited users
where the level, type and frequency of questions was less intimidating.
Turns out these questions for the 1000+ people were answered 7-10 days
earlier in the “main stream community” – but the sub committee felt
more engaged.

3. Get rid of as many of the 90%.

Real life example: One of our communities is a social network
of several thousands. After the first 9 months they instituted a policy
to “purge” or inactivate their lurkers. Trouble was as soon as they did
that the partners complained that the CPM (click metric for their ads)
was too high to justify their community size.

4. Do a little of everything aka “peanut butter approach”:

Real life example: A client that runs a support community had
an outreach effort to help all the community members participate more.
They did an analysis on spend per group and found out at the end that
the “bang for the buck” was better concentrated at one place – the 1%.

5. Do nothing but understand and accept, plan accordingly.

Real life example: A prospect was watching our numbers
(metrics on their proof of concept community) for 3 months and said
“let’s watch the numbers for a year before we make any dramatic
decisions”. Turns out the community had enough time to “self regulate”
and also had some of the 1%’ers motivate the 9% over time.

Your turn: What approaches have you tried and which have worked or not?

Private vs. Public;when to adopt which type of community

Some types of communities are very obviously closed to a selected audience alone and others tend to be fairly open or public based on several criteria. I have often been asked about what the criteria would be to determine when a community would be private versus public. Here are a few categories that we have consistently leveraged:

1. Valuing quality over quantity: There are several reasons why you want the sample size of your community to be large enough and representative enough for you to make decisions regarding future direction. In most cases we have found that due to several reasons, more opinions are not necessarily different opinions. More of the same skews your percentages, but you might infer the wrong things based on the outcome of a community agenda. When you value getting enough of the right data instead of as much data as possible go for a private community.

2. Resource availability: More community members equals more resource requirements (staff, hardware, software, etc.). There is no simple way to get over this fact. If you have a pilot project to test out with a limited objective or specific outcome within a defined time, go for a private community. If resources can be appropriately accounted for public (accept all communities give you more leverage)

3. Growth into adjascent markets: If you can plan an account for a social network to GROW into new markets for your products and services (adjascent spaces) by building a community and migrating their needs to new products, then go for a public community.

4. Brand alignment: Many companies we have spoken to have a strong need for “controlling and managing” their brand. If so, a public community provides fewer options for this: since you risk being looked at as a police state. If your brand definition and acceptance has ability or the risk profile to morphe over time choose public communities.

5. Monetizing metrics: Most independent communities are primarily monetized by ads – keywords and sponsored. The more the traffic, the more the chances of ad revenue. Public communities enable you to reach larger audiences. On the flip side a private focused community usually gets greater CPM since the audiences is filtered and culled.

Lots of good tips and best practices available from other bloggers

Here are some very useful links from other bloggers on their tips for adoption of communities, social networks and collaboration:

1. Christopher Carfi talks about Prerequisites For Setting Up A Business-Driven Web 2.0 Effort
This includes: Why, Who, Where, When and How.

2. Larry Cannell talks about his five tips for gaining Enterprise 2.0 adoption.

3. Jake McKee wrote about six best practices for companies who want to interact with existing, grassroots communities at Community Next.

How not to get JetBlued! And the BEST ROI on communities

Much has been written by several people on the JetBlue saga of apologizing for their cancellations. They actually took out full page ads detailing it on NY Times.

“The advertisement appeared in newspapers in New York, Boston and
Washington, D.C., said Bryan Baldwin, a spokesman for the airline. It
will be repeated on Thursday in several other cities affected by
canceled flights, he said. In total, it will run in 15 cities and 20
newspapers.”

“He refused to say how much the advertisement would cost the company.”

I can tell you if they ran it in 15 cities and 20 newspapers how much it exactly cost them – WAY TOO MUCH.

Instead if they would have consistently had an online community of their fliers, linked to their website which among other things can also be used to get closer to their fliers, will also allow their passengers to “socialize” with one another before the flight and after – (let me tell you I have met many an interesting personality on 11B, on the way from JFK to SFO) they would make raving fans of their already happy customers.

Not to mention they would have known who exactly to apologize to and hence made it less of a big issue.

Here is the ROI:
The best part of it all, building and managing this community I am sure will cost them a lot less than the full page ads.